Saturday, May 22, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon Review: A Strong Female Addition To The Disney Universe

Kelly Marie Tran	...	Raya (voice) Awkwafina	Awkwafina	...	Sisu (voice) Izaac Wang	Izaac Wang	...	Boun (voice) Gemma Chan	Gemma Chan	...	Namaari (voice) Daniel Dae Kim	Daniel Dae Kim	...	Benja (voice) Benedict Wong	Benedict Wong	...	Tong (voice) Jona Xiao	Jona Xiao	...	Young Namaari (voice) Sandra Oh	Sandra Oh	...	Virana (voice) Thalia Tran	Thalia Tran	...	Little Noi (voice) Lucille Soong	Lucille Soong	...	Dang Hu (voice) Alan Tudyk	Alan Tudyk	...	Tuk Tuk (voice) Gordon Ip	Gordon Ip	...	Merchant #2 (voice) Dichen Lachman	Dichen Lachman	...	General Atitaya / Spine Warrior (voice) Patti Harrison	Patti Harrison	...	Tail Chief (voice) Jon Park	Jon Park	...	Chai (voice) (as Jon 'Dumbfoundead' Park)

Release date: March 5, 2021
Running time: 107 minutes
Starring:  Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac WangGemma ChanDaniel Dae KimBenedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran
Directed By: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa
Written By: 
Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim, Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Adele Lim, Carlos López Estrada, Kiel Murray, Qui Nguyen, John Ripa, Dean Wellins

In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.  She needs it to stop a darkness that is slowly destroying humanity, and to restore those who have already been lost.  But it is not just the darkness that will get in her way in this wonderful, dark kids adventure.

Sung Kang	...	Dang Hai (voice) Sierra Katow	Sierra Katow	...	Merchant / Fang Officer (voice) Ross Butler	Ross Butler	...	Spine Chief (voice) François Chau	François Chau	...	Wahn (voice) Paul Yen	Paul Yen	...	Merchant #1 (voice) Isabella Abiera	Isabella Abiera	...	Additional Voices (voice) Deuce Basco	Deuce Basco	...	Additional Voices (voice) G.K. Bowes	G.K. Bowes	...	Additional Voices (voice) Reggie De Leon	Reggie De Leon	...	Additional Voices (voice) Liza Del Mundo	Liza Del Mundo	...	Additional Voices (voice) Terri Douglas	Terri Douglas	...	Additional Voices (voice) Tania Gunadi	Tania Gunadi	...	Additional Voices (voice) Ren Hanami	Ren Hanami	...	Additional Voices (voice) Ben Hisoler	Ben Hisoler	...	Additional Voices (voice) Jennie Kwan	Jennie Kwan	...	Additional Voices (voice) Aleks Le	Aleks Le	...	Additional Voices (voice) Kayla Melikian	Kayla Melikian	...	Additional Voices (voice) (as Kayla Rose Melikian) Yabo Obien	Yabo Obien	...	Additional Voices (voice)
Being a Disney animation film, the first thing you will notice is the beautiful animation in Raya and the Last Dragon.  But the film, like many previous Disney movies, actually has two different styles.  There is the more realistic, but still soft edged animated style of the characters and the main world.  This is a beautifully done setup that retains some cartoonish style while still letting the film feel set in a living world.  But on to of the more traditional animated style, the film also has some backstory done in a wonderful papercraft style that is truly impressive.  I actually wish more of the story was told this way, not because the movie itself wasn't beautiful, but because the papercraft style felts so unique.  Raya's animation is also quite varied as the film takes you to different locals in Kumandra that each have a different character.  You have a frigid forest, lush grasslands, a dessert environment, and a bustling, neon light filed city.  The sheer variety is impressive let alone the beautifully done animation.

Raya and the Last Dragon also has impressive voice acting.  The film uses a who's who of Asian American actors to play the characters in this Asian-inspired animated film.  Kelly Marie Tran as Raya is perfect but the real gem her is Awkwafina as the dragon.  She is so naturally funny and filled with heart that you can't help but smile when she comes on screen.  And the representation of Asian American actors is wonderful to see.  Staying true to Asian American myths and culture was clearly an important goal of this film as there was an entire group charged with making sure that the film was culturally appropriate.  Kudos to Disney for taking this so seriously.

And the story of Raya is one that will appeal to young and old.  It might be a little bit darker than some kids are used to, but my young ones were fine with it despite the scary aspects.  And the darker, more dystopian subject matter is balanced out by Awkwafina's wonderful, loving, and optimistic dragon character.  The story is an important one to tell as well, as it teaches kids (and frankly adults) about prejudice, stereotypes, and learning to trust after past indiscretions.  Finally, Raya is a great Disney princess addition.  She doesn't look like past princesses (which is something that Disney seems to be embracing) and she also doesn't act like them either.  She is a strong, warrior who leads but also listens to those around her.  If there is one criticism of Raya, it is that the story takes a strange turn towards the end that just did not feel natural given what we had learned.  But this also is not out of line with more traditional Disney storytelling, and it did make for a much more exciting film because of it.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a fantastic addition to the Disney universe, with a strong female protagonist, great voice acting, and some beautiful animation that kids and adults will enjoy!

Watch it.

Lucian Perez	...	Additional Voices (voice) Vyvan Pham	Vyvan Pham	...	Additional Voices (voice) Griffin Puatu	Griffin Puatu	...	Additional Voices (voice) Vincent Rodriguez III	Vincent Rodriguez III	...	Additional Voices (voice) Abraham Sigler	Abraham Sigler	...	Additional Voices (voice) JB Tadena	JB Tadena	...	Additional Voices (voice) Lily Villegas	Lily Villegas	...	Additional Voices (voice) Jenn Wong	Jenn Wong	...	Additional Voices (voice) Sanyee Yuan	Sanyee Yuan	...	Additional Voices (voice)
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Raya and the Last Dragon is available digitally and on Redbox.

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